Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House


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2:28 pm - April 26th 2012

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contribution by Patrick Keddie

The historic prospect of reforming the House of Lords, set to be announced in the Queen’s Speech on 9 May, should be exciting – yet the public is hardly enthused.

Fairly or not, politicians are currently viewed as pretty disreputable creatures and the prospect of electing even more of them is not very appealing to many.

But there is a little-discussed radical alternative; a second chamber composed of ordinary people, appointed by lottery in a manner similar to those chosen for jury service.

I came across the idea on comedian Mark Thomas’s People’s Manifesto radio show. Thomas began a tour of the UK in 2009, asking audiences to come up with their own ideas and policies which were then debated.

In a People’s House, there could be quotas to ensure that there is an equal gender balance and that different ethnicities, ages and incomes are fairly represented. Rather than career politicians from a relatively narrow background, we could have a second chamber made up of manual labourers, teachers, nurses, the unemployed, the precariously employed, old, young, disabled and so forth.

In a sense this proposal favours the triumph of amateurism over bland political professionalism of ‘normal’ people over – let’s be frank – the relatively ‘abnormal’.

It is insulting and wrong to suggest that ordinary people don’t have the capacity to examine legislation that governs how their own lives are lived. If we profess to believe in democracy, then shouldn’t we entrust our fellow citizens with some power?

They could be given a month-long course to ensure they understand British and intra-national governance and if you really didn’t want to participate, you could exempt yourself. Terms could last one year or two years.

Having the chance of participating at the highest level could dispel much of the apathy of a public that feels largely disconnected from politics and the Westminster Village.

David Cameron frequently argues that the radical change his government is overseeing is to empower citizens and entrust them with taking charge of their own affairs. A People’s House could be a truly magnificent democratic legacy and the perfect embodiment of a ‘big society’!

This is hardly a new idea; election by lot, known as sortition, was used in ancient Athenian democracy as the primary means of appointing officials. But it would be a properly democratic and radical reform, giving a degree of power and sovereignty directly to the people.

Or do we want the tawdry status-quo replaced by a half-baked reform of the second chamber, leading to more professional politicians lording it over us?


Patrick Keddie is a freelance writer

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Reader comments


Excellent article and something I (not uniquely) have been arguing for some time:

Letter in The Times (May 2009) http://slingerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/letter-published-in-times-on-need-to.html

Article in Progress (Nov 2009) http://slingerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/article-of-mine-on-citizen-mps.html

I have also written an essay about this for a forthcoming pamphlet (details TBC).

I hope to be able to stay in touch with you (and others) Patrick, as I think the current debate is utterly sterile and polarised and neither reforming towards an elected chamber nor maintaining the status quo are viable.

@JohnSlinger

2. Chaise Guevara

Firstly, you’re talking about forcing people to do what you tell them for at least a year, sort of like super-epic jury service. Or if you’re not (if people can refuse) then it just becomes self-selecting again.

Secondly:

“It is insulting and wrong to suggest that ordinary people don’t have the capacity to examine legislation that governs how their own lives are lived. If we profess to believe in democracy, then shouldn’t we entrust our fellow citizens with some power? ”

No it isn’t and no we shouldn’t. You say this is “wrong” but offer no reasoning or evidence to show this is the case. Apparently, all you have to do is claim that people who disagree are insulting you and that’s the end of the argument.

I wouldn’t trust me to examine legislation, because I have no experience in law – and I’m not at all sure a crash training course would fix it. The whole point of a second house is to have laws examined by people who know what they’re doing.

Presenting this as “democratic” is totally specious. It’s not democratic, it’s random – or perhaps weighted randomness based on someone’s idea of what society looks like. If we believe in democracy, why not allow the man on the street to arrest, try, convict and punish people he considers criminals? Or perhaps, believing in democracy as we do, we should let people decide which laws they want to follow? Surely it’s insulting to suggest that the British public lack the responsibility to do these things?

I’m sorry, because your heart is obviously in the right place. But this really is a terrible idea, and it seems to be based on what sounds nice, rather than any actual thought about the issue.

Because turning the House of Lords into a gigantic focus group sounds like such a good idea but… it’s difficult enough to get people to attend two weeks of jury service, and you are asking people to drop everything for two *years*. I’m rather afraid that you’ll find the only people signing up will be those you decry as “pretty disreputable creatures”.

Seriously, you seem to think that the problem with politicians is that they want to do the job and then suggest a chamber populated by, well, people who want to do the job. Do you see the flaw here? Of course the alternative is compulsion and that’s even worse.

‘Or do we want the tawdry status-quo replaced by a half-baked reform of the second chamber, leading to more professional politicians lording it over us?’

Many don’t want it but that’s what we will get.

Anyway, to change the current system would mean that Lesotho would then be the only country with hereditary members in its legislature.
Wouldn’t it be nice to let Lesotho take the jump into the 21st Century first and we can then spend the next 100 years debating the reform of the House of Lords, much as we have done the last 100.

One of the great strengths of the Lords is the number of real experts, such as Lord Winstone or Lord Krebs for science, for example. To randomly replace them and ask the replacements to scrutinise legislation in detail would be a retrograde step.

I think one must ask how the proposed citizens’ chamber would work. Would there be professional advisers to guide the people’s reps? Who would choose these advisers? The civil service seems to be having trouble with adequacy recently if the Home Office is anything to go by.

Reformers might be better looking at the status of the church in a multicultural society, i.e do we need those bishops in the lords, or the need for the remaining hereditary peers?

For me, however, the greatest need is to make the Government more accountable to Parliament for the purposes of administration and the parties more accountable to their members for the purposes of democracy.

I think it’s more helpful to talk about it as juries rather than bringing Athens into it – people understand juries and and part the problem of using Athens in is that it’s worst qualities go hand in hand with it’s best – slavery was fairly widespread which gave more people time to participate.

It’s also different from juries in that it’d be longer and less local – but you could solve that by instead of using fixed terms select juries on a bill by bill basis. Sure some bills go on years – but so do some trials. It’d reduce individual time spent, but also give more people direct experience of the political process.

Anyone interested in current representativeness problems of juries there’s a good thing here: http://eprints.kingston.ac.uk/23/1/Darbyshire-P-23.pdf

Thank goodness that there is still some part of our parliamentary system from which it remains possible to speak from outside the nasty but inevitable union between, on the one hand, what has always been the anti-parliamentary New Left and, on the other hand, the sociologically indistinguishable New Right’s arrival at hatred of Parliament as the natural conclusion of its hatred of the State. From that union, together with the SDP’s misguided Alliance with the Liberals around their practically Bennite constitutional agenda, derives the Political Class’s desire to abolish the House of Lords.

For those who keep such scores, the House of Lords has a higher proportion of women, a higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities, a broader range of ethnic minorities, and far more people from working-class backgrounds generally and the trade union movement in particular, than can be found down the corridor. More significantly, and despite the very hard efforts of successive governments, it also retains a broader range of political opinion, more reflective of the country at large.

But that is under grave threat, both from the party machines and from the way of all flesh. The future composition of the House would be secured, at least in part, by providing for each current life peer, at least who attends very or fairly regularly, to name an heir, by no means necessarily or even ordinarily a relative, but rather a political and a wider intellectual soul mate. That heir would become a peer upon his or her nominator’s death, and would thus acquire the same right of nomination.

Each party should choose its working peers by seeking nominations from its branches, including those of affiliated organisations, and putting out to a ballot of the entire electorate those with the most nominations, up to one and a half times their respective allocations. Each of us could then vote for up to half that allocation, and the highest scoring allocated number would get in. The law should further require that every four or five years, the 12 units already used for European Elections would each elect three Crossbenchers, with each of us voting for one candidate and with the three highest scorers being ennobled.

If there must be an elected second chamber, then let each of the English ceremonial counties, the Scottish lieutenancy areas, the Welsh preserved counties, and the traditional six counties of Northern Ireland, plus perhaps the London Boroughs and the Metropolitan Boroughs, elect an equal number. Say, six. Each of us would vote for one candidate, with the requisite number declared elected at the end. There would be no Ministers in that House, although they would appear before it for Departmental Question Times. And, which is perhaps the most important point of all, parties that contested elections to the House of Commons would be banned from contesting elections to the second chamber.

8. Chaise Guevara

For those who keep such scores, it may be of interest to note that, finding Lindsay’s post strangely familar, I grabbed the first 17 words and put them into Google in quotes. From this I discovered that not only do the first three paragraphs appear verbatim on another LC thread, but the text also showed up on the man’s blog (in at least three separate posts!) and on various other sites, presumably comment threads and forums.

I also learned that David Lindsay is a human spambot.

Have you ever *met* any people? They’re uniformly pretty stupid.

@7

So Lindsay’s comment should actually read ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’.

Rather than career politicians from a relatively narrow background, we could have a second chamber made up of manual labourers, teachers, nurses, the unemployed, the precariously employed, old, young, disabled and so forth.

Hmm. I would suspect that you’d find that people with significant caring responsibilities, health problems or disabilities are far less likely to be able to drop everything to do this. So that’s one self-selection in the same way as the current Parliament.

Then there’s the inevitable press attention that goes with being that high-profile. Again, there are plenty of people who do not want that sort of media attention for themselves or their families and friends for all sorts of reasons … and again, that’s self-selection in the same way as the current Parliament.

Then there’s the fact that detailed analysis of legislation is going to be really dull for most people. It also requires a specific set of skills and modes of thinking, which cannot be picked up by most people in a month any more than most people can learn to play the piano to concert standard in a month. With a 1-2 year non-renewable term, they need to be really good at it from day 1 or what’s the point. (Broad principles, yes, probably most people could do that – but that’s an argument for randomly selecting the Commons, not the Lords). So drop out a bunch more people who don’t believe they can do it (accurately or otherwise) … well, again, big ego is a trait of most current MPs (and I mean that in the nicest possible way)

Our Parliament is unrepresentative of the population because of huge structural issues throughout society. Selecting randomly rather than democratically from the pool of people actually suited to being politicians in the current setup won’t fix that. The one advantage it would have is that you would get approximately proportional representation of political views … which you could get about the same with any no-threshold PR system.

“In a People’s House, there could be quotas to ensure that there is an equal gender balance and that different ethnicities, ages and incomes are fairly represented.”

If there are enough seats, The Law of Large Numbers this should take care of this, with no need for quotas.

…unless some demographics are more likely to exempt themsleves, which thinking about it seems quite possible.

Chaise Guevara, there is a whole book, and I urge you to buy it.

14. @SimbaLevo - twittter

Great idea. You cant have it both ways ((it seems)) you either have corrupt careerists, or amateurs. personally i think it is condascending to suggest matters that could be handled by the public should be. treating the public like incapable kids is shocking and i have no idea why individuals put up with it. There are many things I would say if i was in Parliament, everyone has views on things, so why not?

I understand that there may be some things that require careful revision and comprehension, but surely its the MPs job not to take decisions for us, but to reperesent our views in lieu. The point I was going to make originally is many MPs arent lawyers, some are businesspeople and others are simply postman. Are you positing that they have no play in Commons?

I had a similar idea where for a referendum, people could simply vote by text off their mobile? Cheap, efficent, democratic. If you dont have a phone im sure there can be a postal address or something maybe a ballet box.

15. Sam Pither

A nice, but tremendously quixotic idea.

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 12 David Lindsay

“Chaise Guevara, there is a whole book, and I urge you to buy it.”

Why bother when I’ll get the whole thing here in bitesize chunks whether I want it or not?

It’s a “nice” idea, but is it practical? Not really.

People would need to give up their jobs for what is a short period of time, even after training will have to rely on actual experts to translate the law for them in to language that the majority will need it in to understand. Then how do they know what is appropriate to change? It’s one thing to say yay or nay to something that has been explained to you, quite another to have the ability to help come up with amendments. I assume that for that we’d have other expert panels that actually knew the field to propose such things?

You say that people will be able to understand, and I agree…the question is how long will it take to get the appropriate level of understanding, and at what cost. There is legislation out there right now that people have spent ages looking over and describing to their followers as a rallying call for either the Left or the Right, and those people, committed in some form to trying to understand it, still get it horribly wrong in places!

And after it all we leave them be to find a way back in to the jobs that they would no longer have, surely restricting the types of people that would opt to stay in such a lottery to those that can afford to be without work afterwards. Let’s not even entertain the notion they would keep their jobs at the same time as develop these deep understandings and learnings, especially from professions such as nursing, coming down to Westminster every evening!

If the argument is to either have a lottery of people to discuss policy, or a selected bunch of people that will be required to devote their time to understanding the system and contributing to it, then I’ll stick with the latter, especially since the former has no initial safeguards (though I know that they’d be possible) to ensure that the second chamber didn’t become a house of entirely Tory party enthusiasts. Unlikely, but possible…

I can see the merit in what you’re saying, and I would absolutely agree with people’s jurys that were asked to form on a bill by bill basis, with expenses, to discuss the bill with impartial legal experts for guidance to provide their views and get a representative(ish) route for parliament to consider. I’d even go so far as to say that they needn’t actually interact with each other, as wisdom of the crowds works better that way. But this is an absolutely overkill way of trying to tackle apathy.

Elected lords are not about tackling apathy, nor about improving the logistics of scrutiny (really), it’s about providing a different view of the way the country would want to operate. While in the commons we say what MPs we want, with a view to making up the government, the Lords is the perfect opportunity to make sure that there is a chamber that votes and scrutinises laws based on the actual policy desires of the country in a truly representative fashion.

There are other logistical functions of parliament, and other processes that legislation *should* go through, that we can’t assume aren’t needed just because we protect our democracy by providing for the second chambers election, of course, but it’s a vital first step.

As obvious anachronistic and undemocratic as the HoL is, they actually do a pretty good job of rejecting quite a lot of the more tyrannical/despotic laws that get passed their way. I think if we’d had an elected chamber there for the last 15 years we’d be a lot closer to the corporate police state we’re swiftly heading towards.

19. Albert Spangler

Depressingly, I have to agree with the bulk of comments here. I had someone once ask me “what do you want the house of lords to do?”, and the only answer I could come up with was to scrutinise bills passed by parliament to make sure they’re not completely shite.

I have come to accept the fact that only wierdos like myself actively follow politics and the workings of policy making, and just as I wouldn’t want a random sample of people to try building repair work on where I lived, I wouldn’t want a random sample of people to have a say on the workings of bills passed by parliament.

To be honest, I would be more open to having a proportion of people in parliament to discuss the problems and needs of every day people in the UK, than in the Lords. Having some real people in there would do the world of good to our increasingly stagnant and elitist political process.

20. @SimbaLevo - twittter

Alas, I wish I had more time to dedicate to this, its a really exciting idea in principle. I don’t see why it shouldn’t work, I mean jury service passes off pretty smoothly, I think people just naturally complain about change whenever it comes about in this manner but as soon as people are settled the old inefficient ways will be forgot.

the bottom line is the house of lords does not represent the people of the UK and is unaccountable. Why should we keep it as it is, arguably allowing itself to be subject to accusations of corruption and oppression.

No need to force people at all, and I dont see why people can not be reimbursed. There would need to be an understanding from employers that its part of a “civic duty” and therefore if not compulsory then you know, recommended or what not. If there is a reason for you not to partake then thats also fine. I don’t think it should be forced, doesn’t sit well with my ethics.

And I still don’t buy this argument about “its too hard”. maybe if the country learnt to do things for ourselves we wouldn’t be where we are today with the leveson inquiry etc etc, i don’t need to go into it. Even if you couldn’t make amendments, what about a referendum via text… or as i hope will catch on… a “texterendum!” haha.

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 19

“Alas, I wish I had more time to dedicate to this, its a really exciting idea in principle. I don’t see why it shouldn’t work, I mean jury service passes off pretty smoothly”

Generally speaking, jury service is for less than a year of your life, and doesn’t require you to be a legal expert.

“I think people just naturally complain about change whenever it comes about in this manner but as soon as people are settled the old inefficient ways will be forgot.”

It’s a shame you didn’t have time to read any of the critical comments you’re talking about.

“the bottom line is the house of lords does not represent the people of the UK and is unaccountable. Why should we keep it as it is, arguably allowing itself to be subject to accusations of corruption and oppression.”

Indeed! But that doesn’t mean we should change it to something worse.

“No need to force people at all, and I dont see why people can not be reimbursed. There would need to be an understanding from employers that its part of a “civic duty” and therefore if not compulsory then you know, recommended or what not. If there is a reason for you not to partake then thats also fine. I don’t think it should be forced, doesn’t sit well with my ethics.”

Problem is, most of the people who agree to do it will be people with an axe to grind, i.e. the last people you want controlling law.

“And I still don’t buy this argument about “its too hard”. maybe if the country learnt to do things for ourselves we wouldn’t be where we are today with the leveson inquiry etc etc, i don’t need to go into it.”

I think you do, actually. Who says it’s too hard, and in what way are we unable to do things for ourselves that affects the inquiry?

“Even if you couldn’t make amendments, what about a referendum via text… or as i hope will catch on… a “texterendum!” haha.”

Sod it, let’s just do democracy a la the X-Factor. Phone in with your selection, one pound one vote.

22. Charlieman

We have two chambers in Parliament. The Commons is the elected one from which a government is established, which will try to implement some of the policies drawn from the manifestoes of the parties that comprise it. The Lords, or whatever we might call it in the future, does not make policy and has limited powers to break its implementation. Supporters of the Lords, however it is assembled, imposed or randomly selected, argue that it provides a moderating influence, a place for reflection and review.

As Lee Griffin noted above, sometimes it is not very good at the role of “putting common sense into policy”. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is a classic example of failure.

Reform of the Lords therefore has a key requirement to provide better moderation and reflection. At the same time, reformers want those roles to be less random. Elections of some kind mean that moderation or opposition has a basis in popular opinion.

So whilst I could spend time wondering whether the OP’s suggestion would provide a more representative Lords, I won’t, because I am unconvinced that it would be capable of reflection, thinking over the grand scheme of things. That is also an argument against a Lords comprised of washed up politicians and wannabes.

BTW I am also unconvinced by the argument for “experts” in the Lords. By the time that anyone gets there, they are certain to be a former expert in something but not necessarily a current expert in anything.

23. Charlieman

@19. @SimbaLevo – twittter: “No need to force people at all, and I dont see why people can not be reimbursed. There would need to be an understanding from employers that its part of a “civic duty” and therefore if not compulsory then you know, recommended or what not. If there is a reason for you not to partake then thats also fine. I don’t think it should be forced, doesn’t sit well with my ethics.”

Women are not forced to bear children. But having a child or spending time out of a career for other reasons that benefit society place those individuals at a disadvantage relative to those with a continuous employment history. It is unpleasant to think that people who break their careers are treated in this way by employers, but it is a fact.

The People’s House is less likely to attract women than men. A two year career break for a man may be feasible, depending on the job. A two year break plus child breaks makes it more difficult for women.

We can make guesses about who would put themselves forward for the People’s House: the politically enthusiastic.

And if we are defining separate electorates (the OP mentions manual workers, unemployed, precariously employed etc), why not racial/ethnic/religious electorates?

“I mean jury service passes off pretty smoothly”

Jury service passes off smoothly because people are given a VERY NARROW set of criteria to consider, with little ability for personal prejudices to surface. They are asked to say yes or no to a question (or set of questions), and experts present all of the actual facts and views to them for them to consider.

The suggestion for making a “People’s House” is almost the opposite to this in every way, so why would it run smoothly?

@ @Simbal.evo.twitter
When did *you* last serve on a jury?
Last time I did it cost me well over £1,000 because I am self-employed and I lost a contract for which the expenses did little to compensate. I have savings but not enough to cope with two years in the House of Lords with my business totally destroyed by my two-year absence when I came out.
You assume that all employers will subsidise it as £a civic duty” – and several will go bankrupt as a result. New Labour made it illegal for any company to sack workers as a result of the introduction of the National Minimum Wage so a lot of them went bankrupt and ALL their workers lost their jobs instead if the few who didn’t actually *earn* the NMW. The British Textile industry has been destroyed – employment has sunk so far that ONS no longer provide figures.
Your idea would work fine for the unemployed or media figures but for those of us who actually need to earn a living – no chance!! What planet do you inhabit?

I’m still not convinced it’s the Lords that needs fixing.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 22 Charlieman

“And if we are defining separate electorates (the OP mentions manual workers, unemployed, precariously employed etc), why not racial/ethnic/religious electorates?”

Yeah. It’s a minor problem with a hugely flawed idea, but it’s another example of the lack of serious thought that’s gone into the proposal.

First of all, the new chamber proposed is never going to be a realistic microcosm of society unless it’s unfeasibly big. Secondly, why is it assumed that because someone is the same gender and rough age as me, and in a similar job (which could be using “similar” VERY broadly; I’d probably just get lumped in with “clerical”), that they would somehow represent me? Do all male editorial staff in their mid-20s feel the same way about everything?

28. Charlieman

@23. Lee Griffin: “Jury service passes off smoothly because people are given a VERY NARROW set of criteria to consider, with little ability for personal prejudices to surface. They are asked to say yes or no to a question (or set of questions), and experts present all of the actual facts and views to them for them to consider.”

Thankfully, there are exceptions to acceptance of experts. Juries have often come up with contrary decisions in Official Secrets Act cases. That is probably because the arguments are well presented — and perhaps the length of cases provides time for reflection by jurors — that moral justice is delivered.

I do not spend my time watching parliamentary debates or reading Hansard. When I am exposed to their content, I am stunned by ennui. If I do not have a special interest in a topic, I have almost no interest at all. Pity the poor buggers in the People’s House, after a month’s training, trying to feign interest in the day’s debates.

As far as the tories are concerned,, they might as well have a few hundred sheep with blue dots on them and a couple of sheep dogs to herd them through the lobbies.

Oh wait, that is what we already have.

A radical idea but perhaps an overcomplicated one. There is a far easier way to ensure an absence of professionalism as well as a random element to the selection of the upper house and that is simply to choose these legislators by genetic lottery i.e. simply replace each legislator as he passes away with his eldest child. This would produce all the benefits argued for above but would have the advantage of being far less cumbersome to administer.

I’m amazed no-one’s ever thought of it before.

31. Charlieman

@26. Chaise Guevara: “Secondly, why is it assumed that because someone is the same gender and rough age as me…”

Yes, LC has been here many times. In one notorious thread, the OPs proposed that baby boomers “had it all” and that society owes a debt to Generation Y, ignoring the fact that not all baby boomers are well off. Off this site, Chris Dillow has commented that tax allowances for baby boomers and predecessors are necessary because they have to continue to work post-retirement owing to poor pensions and savings.

Yes, members of different groups (age, class, educational achievement) have different life experience. But it would be remarkable if they didn’t know somebody who fell outside their personal demographic classification. When pricked, most of us become aware about “the couple down the road”. I deliberately skipped race, because ignorance or unfamiliarity is still common.

32. Chaise Guevara

@ 30 Charlieman

I *think* I remember that thread, and if not, I certainly recall the argument. I’ve occasionally felt that way myself when older people criticise the younger generation en masse: they’re all pampered idiots who don’t know they’re born and they don’t talk properly and they stab strangers and get pregnant at 15 and they only know their friends through Facebook blah blah blah LOOK OUT HE’S GOT A HOODIE!

So the reply that comes rushing up the throat is: “When are you going to apologise for drinking all our oil, poisoning our rivers and selling away our futures on easy credit terms?” But the rejoinder is every bit as bad as the original rant, bigotry used to counter bigotry. Nobody should ever be held accountable for the actions of other people in their demographic, full stop. And likewise it shouldn’t be assumed that I share someone’s opinion just because he’s similar to me.

Richard P. Feynman’s time in a Curriculum Commission should inform you as to why “a people’s house” is likely to be an astonishingly shite idea:
http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm

Though to be perfectly honest I imagine that’s probably how the house of lords currently operates anyway.

34. Charlieman

@31. Chaise Guevara: “And likewise it shouldn’t be assumed that I share someone’s opinion just because he’s similar to me.”

Every year and every day, I remind myself not to presume how people think.

My political activist years were consumed in conflict with Margaret Thatcher’s acolytes. The Conservative Party conducted hate campaigns at that time. *1.

Margaret Thatcher, a hanger, had worked as a lawyer. As a bank bencher, she voted in favour of liberalisation of male homosexuality, abortion and divorce. That took guts. She understood how law destroyed people.

But as Prime Minister, with the capacity to liberate people, the strong person capitulated to the revolting wing of the Conservative party.

*1 That is why Paul Staines is still so fucked up politically.

35. Patrick Keddie

Just a couple of quick remarks…

I certainly think there should be a significant place for experts and specialists to contribute to debates, offer interpretations and present legal analyses – but the power to make decisions would ultimately rest with ordinary people.

It is important to note that ‘ordinary’ people are often extremely knowledgeable in certain fields. A medical professional may be well placed to offer insights into medical legislation; someone with a background in construction would be able to contribute to housing debates, people on lower incomes might offer insights into changes in public services that wealthier people may overlook and so on.

This is linked to the issue of representativeness; I think that it is important to have a political system that more closely resembles the make-up of the country as it provides a scope for a wider range of views and experiences, arguably contributing to a greater capacity for scrutiny. This doesn’t assume that everyone in the same demographic thinks the same but recognises that people in various situations have very different insights and perspectives that are often ignored by electing politicians from a relatively narrow elite.

This is important as many people see politicians as out of touch and unable to relate to their lives – hence the lack of enthusiasm for more elected politicians.

Also – I am certainly not suggesting that people would be forced to participate! Also, they should be well remunerated for doing an important job. I see it as an exciting way to open-up politics to people who do wish to participate but who wouldn’t normally get the chance. Therefore, the people who participate would most likely be politically engaged – why is this problematic?

I am not criticising politicians for being interested in politics but for being out of touch and overly-fettered with the political and ideological baggage of political parties and electoral campaigning. Does ‘having an axe to grind’ mean having an opinion? Don’t all politicians have axes to grind?

Like any political system it would be flawed but the bulk of the criticism suggests that ordinary people wouldn’t be capable of participating, yet I disagree that the parallel with juries is invalid. Juries deal with extremely far-ranging and complex legal cases, with input from specialists and experts – as in my proposal. Furthermore, it is not currently a requirement to be an expert in law to sit in the House of Lords nor is it in the proposed elected house.

36. Charlieman

@32. Cylux: “Richard P. Feynman’s time in a Curriculum Commission should inform you as to why “a people’s house” is likely to be an astonishingly shite idea:
http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm

Thank you for that reference to an experiment in which I participated in the UK at age 7 or 8 years. It made no difference to me; no harm no good. Maybe an opportunity cost.

From the quoted article: “In state after state, incompetent committees engage in group-grope “evaluation” shams which embody the emperor’s-nose fallacy — the nonsensical notion that a question can be answered by averaging a bunch of guesses proffered by people who don’t know what they are talking about.”

This is now known as “The Wisdom of Crowds”.

Chaise Guevara and others have summed it up well. It’s a nice sentiment but it doesn’t stack up when you look closely.

The role of the Lords is to reflect on, moderate, and add the expertise of its members, to the leglislation being passed by our elected representatives. The important criteria for membership of the Lords, in my view, is that it should reflect a range of areas of experience and expertise, which it seems to do quite well. The members tend to be older, and that’s no bad thing, as while older people are not without their faults, they are less prone to rush into action than younger people, and for this role, that caution and patience based on experience is valuable. I would be seriously alarmed at the prospect of 18 or 20 years olds – of any background – sitting in the Lords. As a group they simply don’t have the experience (I am not saying that there might not be individual youngsters suitable for the role of the Lords, but statistically they must be a tiny minority compared to older people).

On the whole the Lords do a decent job, tend not to make outrageous cockups, and seem to be not very corrupt. They are much more representative of the broader population than they were a decade or two ago, and have a reasonable balance of former MPs and experts from other areas of public life. It’s not really broken, and doesn’t need mending.

@32. Cylux: “Richard P. Feynman’s time in a Curriculum Commission should inform you as to why “a people’s house” is likely to be an astonishingly shite idea:
http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm”

Now that’s interesting, thank you.

Abolish the existing system of honours. Replace it with one honour awarded by the state for excellence in any field. From the recipients of that honour draw the membership of the second chamber. Why should a business man who’s greased politicians and made a few token gestures to charity be more deserving of a peerage and the right to legislate than someone who’s done a couple of decades in a charity for nothing and who winds up with an OBE? The vast array of vanity titles such as peerages and knighthoods could be sold by the state without any rights to dabble in government to those pompous and dumb enough to buy them

Patrick: Therefore, the people who participate would most likely be politically engaged – why is this problematic?

Because your definition of “politically engaged” is only looking towards a particularly narrow form of “political engagement”. Your plan is nowhere near radical enough if you want it to actually make a difference – you can’t just pick people randomly: you need to change the way that Parliament and the surrounding institutions work at a very fundamental level so that randomly picked people can do it. This isn’t about talent or intelligence or “the general public are incompetent” or anything like that – this is about existing structures putting differential barriers in the way of people, and your proposal doesn’t do a thing about them.

Two years of high-intensity work … regardless of what ATOS says, not everyone can actually do that. So, how do you make participation in Parliamentary debates accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities (including mental health conditions)? How do you make them accessible to people with caring responsibilities that may be geographically some distance from London? Or to people with very young children? Or to people whose health makes it difficult for them to leave the house?
… or do you just say that “political engagement” is mainly for healthy people without caring commitments, and that’s not a problem?

Two years in the press spotlight? How do you stop the press going after randomly-selected Lords who have things in their life, identity, history or family they’d rather the Daily Mail didn’t report on? Maybe they’re trans, or have a mental illness, and don’t want their intimate medical details splashed over the front page of the Sun, or bandied around on the internet by political opponents. Maybe they take illegal drugs, or have family members who are in and out of trouble with the law, or are going through a difficult time in their relationships, and don’t need extra trouble from the press camping out on their lawn to see if there’s a story. Maybe they have a stalker they’re hiding from and want to stay out of sight altogether. How do you deal with that when the press would rightly argue that the activities of national legislators might just be in the public interest – how do you force the line to be drawn in a sensible place?
… or do you just say that “political engagement” is mainly for people the tabloids approve of, and that’s not a problem?

Randomly selected? Well, we all know the electoral roll isn’t complete and is incomplete with a strong bias towards various people. So how do you get proper random selection?
…or do you just say that the current situation where young people and/or poor urban people are under-represented on the register is fine, and “political engagement” doesn’t mean them?

What needs to happen is that the barriers that are put in people’s way – which mostly are not related to whether they’re interested in politics (and many of the people I know in this sort of position are very politically engaged in other ways) – need removing. I haven’t seen a suggestion for random selection before that really acknowledges the existence of and need to dismantle all these barriers – and neither does yours.

41. Chaise Guevara

@ 35 Patrick

“It is important to note that ‘ordinary’ people are often extremely knowledgeable in certain fields.”

Of course, but most of them are not knowledgeable about law, which is the problem.

“This is linked to the issue of representativeness; I think that it is important to have a political system that more closely resembles the make-up of the country as it provides a scope for a wider range of views and experiences, arguably contributing to a greater capacity for scrutiny. This doesn’t assume that everyone in the same demographic thinks the same but recognises that people in various situations have very different insights and perspectives that are often ignored by electing politicians from a relatively narrow elite. ”

One problem with this is that the actual views available could be to some degree determined by whoever got to draw up the demographic boundaries. You can’t just snap your fingers, say “the house will represent society!” and have done with it; you have to have a system (a rather complex one) to make that happen. Whoever designs that system has considerable power.

“This is important as many people see politicians as out of touch and unable to relate to their lives – hence the lack of enthusiasm for more elected politicians.”

I have to say that this is sort of the public’s fault. If the House of Commons is full of unrelatable, out-of-touch elites, why do we keep voting for them?

“Therefore, the people who participate would most likely be politically engaged – why is this problematic? ”

Because that’s your societal symmetry destroyed, right there. You won’t get a cross-section of society, you’ll get a mob of people who either have an axe to grind or who just want to be in control. Which we have already, of course, but at least with the moderating influence of democracy.

Say your house gets, by design or sheer fluke, a majority of people who hate the government. They could block every single law out of spite, for ridiculous reasons, and there wouldn’t be a damn thing you could do about it.

“I am not criticising politicians for being interested in politics but for being out of touch and overly-fettered with the political and ideological baggage of political parties and electoral campaigning. Does ‘having an axe to grind’ mean having an opinion? Don’t all politicians have axes to grind?”

See above. I’ll also add that the first sentence of this quote, combined with your proposal, pretty much adds up to “I don’t like the results I get from democracy, so here’s a way to bypass it and get what I want by default”.

“Like any political system it would be flawed but the bulk of the criticism suggests that ordinary people wouldn’t be capable of participating, yet I disagree that the parallel with juries is invalid. Juries deal with extremely far-ranging and complex legal cases, with input from specialists and experts – as in my proposal. ”

Yes, but calling someone for jury service doesn’t require them to abandon their career.

“Furthermore, it is not currently a requirement to be an expert in law to sit in the House of Lords nor is it in the proposed elected house.”

No, but they tend to be reasonably bright and informed and to have plenty of time on their hands. Plus experience, which is the main thing.

So basically the opinion here is that ordinary people are too thick to understand what is going on and we need specially selected and educated people (let’s call them “politicians”) to scrutinise other “politicians” work. All these “politicians” will be friends and associates and will select each other for important positions. All rather like an exclusive (and elitist) club when you look at it. They will chose who we, the thick, are allowed to vote for, and will arrange it so that no-one who is outside their club can join.

I’m not sure this is democracy!

Yes, Anthony Barnett (and Peter Carty) did have this idea before, published in their book The Athenian Option. But given that the role of the second chamber is usually to provide scrutiny by non-partisan experts, why not appoint the lower house by sortition? The political party that won the election would be entitled to set the legislative agenda, but the decision-making would be in the hands of ordinary (randomly selected) citizens, based on the deliberative exchange between the winning party and the independent experts in the upper house. This is the model outlined in my own book, A People’s Parliament. There is an ongoing debate on these issues at http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/

JC

So basically the opinion here is that ordinary people are too thick to understand what is going on and we need specially selected and educated people (let’s call them “politicians”) to scrutinise other “politicians” work.

I don’t know why you’ve inferred that. ISTM no-one has said anything of the sort.

What people have suggested is that it’s no good just randomly selecting people and chucking them in the House and expecting it to work.

Besides, the HoL isn’t a big problem. Talk of reforming it is like worrying about a speck of dust on your bookshelf when there are piles of dirty plates in the kitchen.

(yes, I know we can have as many concerns as we like, but Parliament has finite time and I think there are more important things for it to be getting on with.)

Patrick,

This is linked to the issue of representativeness; I think that it is important to have a political system that more closely resembles the make-up of the country as it provides a scope for a wider range of views and experiences, arguably contributing to a greater capacity for scrutiny. This doesn’t assume that everyone in the same demographic thinks the same but recognises that people in various situations have very different insights and perspectives that are often ignored by electing politicians from a relatively narrow elite.

This is important as many people see politicians as out of touch and unable to relate to their lives – hence the lack of enthusiasm for more elected politicians.

This seems to me more of a problem with party politics and the Commons, less to do with the Lords – if anything.

People are disengaged from mainstream politics, turning away from parties and voting because they feel they have no influence and that politicians are only interested in them at election time – and then only if it isn’t a safe seat. The voter is an afterthought.

If politicians were forced to go door-to-door – read, cap large donations, no public money for political parties – to seek the favour of ordinary people perhaps politicians might learn to be in touch and able to relate to the lives of ordinary people.

You are tinkering with a relatively minor symptom instead of trying to cure the disease.

“So basically the opinion here is that ordinary people are too thick to understand what is going on”

No, but just while I am intelligent but can’t put together a car engine that’s been disassembled, and the person next door is intelligent but can’t build a web application, and the person next to them doesn’t understand how to securely and safely fit new windows, we understand the limitations of individual understanding in areas they are not experts in… i.e Law.

If you think this idea is a good one, please join and support our facebook page – click on ‘my website’ link – or search for Demarchy in the UK on facebook.

We need your help to make this happen!!!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Geoff Walker

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let's have a People's House http://t.co/zwaEpMWY

  2. Patrick Keddie

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/sRzkjX9r

  3. malcolm

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let's have a People's House http://t.co/kWusiVkk

  4. Lee Griffin

    An almost wholly awful idea on Lords reform, but interesting none the less. http://t.co/dZ9fdbpP

  5. Ian Beswick

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/bUusEKyr via @libcon

  6. Andrew Roche

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House http://t.co/zuCasr25

  7. Alan Finlayson

    Didn't @AnthonyBarnett have this idea before Mark Thomas? @libcon Instead of an Elected Lords, a People's House http://t.co/UzQxM2GD

  8. John Davies

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/sRzkjX9r

  9. BevR

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/A4cD212V via @libcon

  10. JC

    RT @andrewroche: Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House http://t.co/oefxI515 <<< Yes. This.

  11. BevR

    RT @libcon: Instead of an Elected Lords, let's have a People's House http://t.co/jnFzqTjI

  12. paul and lynn hewitt

    RT @libcon: Instead of an Elected Lords, let's have a People's House http://t.co/jnFzqTjI

  13. Sortition « Left Outside

    [...] at random, telling politicians they are talking crap. Sign me up. Share this:StumbleUponDiggRedditTwitterEmailPrintFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to [...]

  14. BevR

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/A4cD212V via @libcon

  15. Mike Smart

    Instead of an Elected Lords, let’s have a People’s House | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/A4cD212V via @libcon

  16. Demarchy in the UK

    A move in the right direction! http://t.co/igXMGjfR





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